Sunday, April 28, 2019

Reflections on a Bumper Sticker

Yesterday, following an event representing the culmination of a lot of hard work, landed me in a mellow mood—once I was rescued from the precipice of sheer exhaustion. It was one of those dazed, reflective kinds of reveries that can come when one is too tired to do any more work, but not tired enough to sleep.

I thought—of all the possibilities that could have been chosen—about a bumper sticker. I had spotted it on my way home, too busy—or perhaps already too dazed—to think fast enough to snap a picture of it. But there was no way I would have forgotten the tag line. It aligned perfectly with what had been bugging me about that huge project I had been tackling.

I'd have to admit, first of all, that that huge project had started out as a dream. It was a "what if" germ of an idea that grew to meet reality, but in the process had run into some rather hurtful roadblocks—you know, the kind of painful backlash that makes one swear, "never again!"

And that was what I had decided: never again. I didn't care, at that point, whether it was a noble project, a commendable effort, a needed service. If it was still needed after that, someone else could do it.

But then, I saw that bumper sticker. Let me say that again, only from a different perspective: "But then, after weeks of hard work, despite triggers that brought on a range of emotional rampages, I saw that bumper sticker."

And it made me think.

Thinking makes everything gel. It can bring together disparate remembrances from opposite ends of life, from bipolar extremes, from time warps and parallel realities. It puts two and two together when they never before could have met, let alone mixed.

In real life—you know the blogisphere is an alternate reality, don't you?—my family runs a training company. Mostly, the enterprise addresses training needs for other businesses, and my husband provides his unique perspective in that role. Around our house, some of the catch phrases for the team-building or strategic planning theories he presents in classes have become everyday sayings when we reflect on our own daily routines. While you may not find yourself regularly commenting on the "productive zone of disequilibrium" around your home, it is not uncommon to hear those words flow from a family member's mouth as he is pouring his morning coffee.

I know that was not what I was thinking, when I spotted that bumper sticker. I was thinking about how exhausted I was, and how much I couldn't wait until that project I was dreading was over. The backstabbing, the squabbling, the animosity had gotten to me. It was bad enough that a project had gone bad, but when that project used to be one's dream, that becomes doubly difficult to accept.

The bumper sticker, however, was not mindful of all that angst. It simply stated, "Life doesn't get easier; you just get stronger."

Where did a saying like that come from? Once home, I jumped on the search. There are just some sayings that resonate. They strike the right chord—or, more like a Helmholtz resonator, they are amplified by their receiver.

Google did not cooperate with my newfound quest. The first couple pages of hits for the quote from that random bumper sticker were all sported by fitness centers or businesses promoting workout routines. From there, they entered the realm of pithy sayings affixed to wall hangings or magnets, copied from there to Pinterest and posted at LifeHack. Or were even co-opted by sports enthusiasts turned writers who borrowed the line for their title.

By that point, my search had entered the realm of very dated results, like the title for this 2011 blog post from a young woman working in Saudi Arabia (I had to look, if only because that is what, in the course of his work, my husband had ended up doing a few years ago, as well). But at least that tip provided me a clue: this saying had been around for a very long time. How had I missed it?

Though he didn't have an entry on Wikipedia, the man attributed with having originally written that quote—actually, as I discovered from an entry on Goodreads, the correct version is, "Life doesn't get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient"—is an inspirational speaker named Steve Maraboli. In fact, for the fastidious researchers among us, that line can be found on page 61 of his book, Life, the Truth, and Being Free, something he wrote in 2009. I haven't read the book myself, but if you don't have time to read the "Most Quoted Man Alive," you can check out his pithy sayings, including this one, via Wikiquote.

However I missed resonating to this quote ten years ago, I'm not sure. Perhaps I wasn't on the same wavelength at the time. Now, however, is a different story. And all this gelled in the pressure cooker of my life in the past few weeks. With the project now officially over—and well-received, thankfully—I can bask in the stress-induced exhaustion and become philosophical. Somehow, the forsworn "never again" has morphed into something a little less unforgiving. It all has become a grand illustration of just what Ronald Heifetz meant when he described what he called the "Productive Zone of Disequilibrium." It may be an operative macro concept in adaptive leadership, but in the micro sense, it certainly applies to the learning curve for each of us as individuals.

In the end, going through misery can have its silver lining, if we learn and if we benefit from it and grow. Thanks to the unwitting reminder of a passing bumper sticker, it's good to know that this, too, can become a learning experience. At least now, I'm ready to tackle it all again.

Well...maybe after a break....



  1. Thanks I needed that today:) Far Guy is still struggling but here at home instead of in the hospital. I am exhausted, we are hoping he turns the corner in the next few days and gets on the road to recovery.

    1. Oh, no, Far Side! I'm sorry to hear Far Guy is still struggling. Both of you need a break, and soon.


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